Formatting with Scrivener

March 21, 2016

You’ve finished your book, and have decided to self-publish it!

It’s a wonderful, exciting step forward after all the work of writing, editing, rewriting, re-editing, and in essence doing everything you can to make sure your book is perfect. You’ve gotten a book cover for your book, and it’s so pretty, you can just gaze at the art for hours.

Now, though, it’s time to format and upload that book.

While formatting itself is not hard, per se, but it is a bit time consuming and can be frustrating.

Be prepared, no matter how you do it, to re-do that first book several times until you get it right.

Don’t get mad at yourself for having to do it again.

It’s so hard not to–I know, trust me–but like anything, with practice you’ll find a way that works best for you.

I choose to use Scrivener to compile my finished books into an .epub file before I upload. (Scrivener is available for PC or Mac, and is very reasonably priced). This is not the only use for Scrivener–it has a very nice writing program and story organization (binder), also it never “trashes” anything, just moves it out of the way.

Working in Scrivener is very simple. Like in any program, it has a little bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to use.

Simply put:

  1. You start a new file (a project), and Scrivener has multiple premade templates to use, depending on what you’ve written (fiction, fiction in parts, non-fiction, etc.).
  1. You import your file. You can import multiple word processing file types. Also, be sure to upload your cover art into the program so you can put it in the finished document.
  1. Split your document into chapters and/or scenes. Scrivener allows for making each chapter a folder and putting each scene in each file.

Separating the chapters is how Scrivener knows what to put in the table of contents. You have the option to load “back matter” and “front matter” into your book. I have always put everything in a single document, so nothing gets accidentally forgotten because I forgot to click something.

  1. After splitting it up the way you like it, it’s time to compile. Go to File-Compile.
  • The Compile box comes up, allowing you to tweak your document in dozens of ways — the text formatting, heading formatting, smart quotes vs straight quotes, ellipses vs triple periods, among other little tweaks you can make.
    • I highly recommend going through all these individually until you know exactly what kind of formatting you want to use for your ebook.
    • There is also the option to leave everything exactly as you imported it, (if you prefer to style your headings and things in Word, you’ll want this option, so Scrivener doesn’t change anything) by clicking on “As is.”
  • You can select what kind of breaks between scenes you want as well, whether it’s a page break, a blank line, or a couple of asterisks, it’s completely customizable.
  • Also, you can enter your metadata for your book. This is very important.
  • Set the format style you want to export your file into — .PDF, .mobi (kindle)* and .epub are just three of the choices you have. *You do have to download a file for Scrivener the first time to convert to kindle format, but it is free.
  1. Then when you’ve set all the things like you’d like, hit Compile.
  • I recommend adding the date to your export file name, so you can see at a glance which file is the latest version of that particular book. (Because you WILL go back and change something. If it’s only the list of other titles you’ve written. And NO this won’t show up on the vendor sites when you upload.)
  • I also recommend uploading (or side-loading) it to a tablet or ebook reader so you can preview the file, making sure there’s no strange formatting issues. Most errors I’ve found have been because I messed up something, forgetting to “check” or “uncheck” something.
    • There are digital previewers on the vendor sites to preview your book, as well. I personally prefer to look at it on my ebook reader before uploading.

If you need more help with the formatting, check out Scrivener’s tutorials: Their website has a great deal of tutorials as well as on their You Tube channel.

There are several options for formatting.

Some people choose to hire someone to do it for them. Some people want to do it all themselves. It’s a matter of what you’re comfortable doing.

Here’s a couple of books recommended by the amazing A.C. James, about formatting:

Zen of eBook Formatting by Guido Henkel
The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette

Buy them, read them, love them. Trust me, a little bit of reading can save you from a whole lotta hair-pulling later on. — A. C. James

Some alternatives to Scrivener, and different ways to format your book (because like anything, there are many ways to prepare your ebook for publication):

  • For PC: Jutoh
  • For PC or Mac: Sigil Open-Source software
  • For Mac: Vellum (click here for another RAMN post about Vellum)
  • For a reference file, Smashwords has a free PDF book to instruct how to format for their platform, but many of the tips are worth having, no matter how you format your book.
  • You can prepare your book in Word and upload the .doc or .docx file directly to your publishing dashboard. (Reading the above mentioned Smashwords PDF before gives you some guidelines)
  • Run the document through a free program called Calibre, which converts and manages ebooks. (Though you must be careful, because sometimes a program like Calibre can bloat the files, and a bigger file has more delivery charge on Amazon)

Whatever option you choose to use, know that there are multiple ways to do it, and you can find one that works for you.

Just remember to always preview it before hitting publish!

Candice Gilmer

About the Author

Candice Gilmer

Romance author Candice Gilmer leads a dangerous double life as a mommy and a writer. Between writing and family, she plays on Pinterest and takes pictures of her growing collection of Funko Pop dolls, because, well, she's a fan girl too.

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